France's Macron shifts to right on schools and birth rate

Author: Hugh Schofield Source: BBC News:
January 17, 2024 at 10:20
The president began with a 30-minute opening address followed by two hours of questions.  LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP
The president began with a 30-minute opening address followed by two hours of questions. LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP

Le Monde said the president was "flirting with nostalgia for a France of old".

That is the unanimous verdict after he gave a long, televised press conference on Tuesday evening.

He promoted uniforms in schools, a crackdown on drugs gangs, and steps to boost France's declining birth rate.

Left-wing commentators deplored his apparent shift from the crafted political balance of recent years.

But they said they suspected all along the right was where his heart lay.

Commentators on the right said they were delighted by his apparent conversion to their views, but suspected it was all a sham.

Macron appeared for two and a half hours before around 100 journalists assembled in the Salle des Fêtes of the Elysée palace.

It was billed as a chance to "meet the nation" and set the themes for his last three years in office, after accusations that he had lost his reforming touch after re-election in 2022.

It also came one week after President Macron's appointment of a new government under Gabriel Attal, the youngest prime minister in French history. Mr Attal leads a cabinet whose make-up is noticeably more right-wing than its predecessors.

Read more from Hugh: Macron picks Attal, 34, as France's youngest PM

The president's language certainly suggested that he had recalibrated his programme to counter the growing challenge from the hard-right nationalists of Marine Le Pen. Her National Rally (RN) party is tipped to come first in European elections in June.

Developing his idea of "civic rearmament", he said the inculcation of French Republican values in schoolchildren was the key to "France remaining France".

"Every generation must learn what the Republic means - a history, duties, rights, a language, respect… and they must learn it from childhood," he said.

He said that the wearing of school uniform - an idea supported until now only by part of the political right - would become general in 2026 if an experiment in 100 schools next year was judged successful.

He supported the learning of the national anthem in schools, ceremonies for delivering school diplomas, and a compulsory period of civic service for 16-year-olds. Without going into detail, he also promised measures to control the amount of time children spend on screens.

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